(aka "Mad Tom")

It was actually her scent that had awakened Angel in his upstairs suite, before Dawn and the Slayers heard her footsteps. And smelling her scent inside the Hyperion pissed him off. He was dressed and came running down the stairway, and arrived at the doorway to the basement just as Dawn and the others had taken defensive positions behind the furniture, dividers and pillars in the lobby. He was waiting as the blonde female figure in the flower print dress and high heeled slides stepped up and into the lobby.

"Harmony!" Angel seethed. "What the hell do you want here?"

Dawn leaned her head slightly to look around her pillar. "Well, whaddya know!" she laughed to herself. "There is a God!"

"Hi, Angel!" Harmony Kendall smiled sheepishly. "So this is the Hyperion!"

"I said, what the hell do you want here?"

"I was kinda hoping you'd hire me back."

Angel heaved a sigh. "You know, I've seen a lot of chutzpah in my two and a half centuries, Harmony. But you're right there at the top with this one! I ask you to keep Hamilton occupied for me, and you do so by doing a Monica Lewinsky with him and then setting me up so he damn near beats me to death! And then I fire you for betraying me, and less than eighteen hours later, you show up here at the Hyperion asking me for a job?"

"Well, I was at the train station on my way out of town to start over. And then I ran into S--" Harmony caught herself. "--sssomeone I know from the underworld. It's all over town that you guys kicked Wolfram and Hart's ass and put them out of business last night. I figured you might be starting up your old Angel Investigations and could use me."

Angel just shook his head and laughed.

"You've gotta be short-handed, right?" she continued. "I heard about Wesley. I figure you could use a new office manager, or whatever he was."

Angel laughed again. "Rumors of Wesley's death may not have been greatly exaggerated, but they are out of date! Besides, Wesley's job title with AI may have been fuzzy, but his job description was fathoms over your head."

"Okay! Whatever! But you can still use me as an office assistant. You know what I'm capable of!"

"Exactly, Harmony. Which is why I fired you, remember?"

"But we were all working for the Wolfram and Hart LA Office when you fired me!" Harmony squealed. "It was their payroll, so technically, they fired me, and then you put them out of business. And you even gave me a letter of recommendation. So you can hire me for Angel Investigations!"

Before Angel could even start a reply, a female voice announced from the lobby behind her: "Young novice Slayers and Watchers, you've just had your first lesson in Insane Troll Logic!"

Harmony froze. Three things made her freeze: the words "Slayers" and "Watchers", and the voice itself. She turned around slowly and stiffly to face...

"Dawn!" she smiled nervously.

Dawn returned her smile with a steady gaze and her bright, wide grin. But the gaze was much more predatory than sociable. "Harmony!"

"How's your sister and her old gang from Sunnydale?" she said quickly, desperate to steer the conversation away from anything confrontational.

"They're fine," Dawn sounded pleasant but kept her predatory leer. "Gee, Harmony! I haven't seen you since... four years ago. When you had me chained up in a cave as bait for my sister, and your minions started fighting you over whether or not to eat me right away!"

"Four years huh?" Harmony giggled, continuing her nervousness. "Has it really been that long?"

"Four years," Dawn confirmed. "And I have two news flashes for you! One, I have a long memory!"

Harmony waited a couple of seconds before asking, "And two?"

BAM! Dawn's well-placed kick to her midsection sent her flying backward, up and over the steps and through the double swinging doors. "I don't need my big sister to beat people up for me anymore!" Dawn yelled after her.

Harmony crashed onto the sidewalk and tumbled out from under the shadow of the awning into the sunlight. She screamed as she began to sizzle and smoke, and was a second or two from bursting into flames and dust, but Dawn had leaped out the doorway after her and pulled her back into the shade. Dawn grabbed her by the back of her collar and began beating out the smoldering fires in her hair and dress, savoring every slap of her hand.

"In or out, Angel!" Dawn said loudly, holding her at the edge of the sunlight. "It's your hotel!"

Angel put a hand to his chin with a long thoughtful silence, in homage to Jack Benny's old "Your money or your life!" routine. "I'll probably live to regret this, but in!"

Dawn let Harmony go and she stepped back through the doors, sighing with relief at her reprieve while staring in shock at Dawn. She hadn't taken more than a step inside when Angel grabbed her upper arm and said, "Inside to my office! Let's establish the ground rules! Again!"

Dawn returned to the D&D players, but Dungeonmaster Andrew stared after Harmony as Angel yanked her into his inner office.

"What's wrong, sweetie?" Amanda asked him.

"So that's Harmony, huh?" Andrew said somberly. "I must've missed her when I was at Wolfram and Hart that one time."

"That's her," Dawn nodded. "In the lobotomized flesh! Why?"

"My cousin Cyrus disappeared back in Sunnydale. Four years ago. And he was last seen hanging around with her."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Dawn said, then thought for a few seconds. "Did he look like you?"

"Uh huh," Andrew replied. "We were the same age, and growing up, people always confused the two of us. Does it ring any bells?"

Dawn nodded. "Like I said, I have a long memory. Harmony did have a minion named Cyrus. He was always in vamp-face when I saw him up close, but from what I remember, he did kinda look like you. If you'd been turned."

"Do you know what happened to him?"

"Buffy dusted him along with the rest of Harmony's minions when she rescued me."

"Oh. Thanks," Andrew nodded quietly, as Amanda placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

Dawn searched for the most consoling thing she could say. "Harmony had just sired him maybe a week or so earlier. He wasn't a vamp for very long."

"That's good to know," he said. "I don't know what I'll tell my aunt and uncle about it, but it's good to know."

It was a simple task; under normal circumstances a rather mundane and even unmanly chore, really. But the very fact that he was doing it made his emotions well up again.

They'd picked out one of the Hyperion's biggest rooms that had once served as a honeymoon suite, and had immediately shed their garments-- Wesley his torn and bloodstained clothes, Fred still blushing as she shed her still-wet knit top and skirt-- and treated themselves and each other to an intimate and sensuous bubble bath in the suite's oversized tub. They noticed that the scar of his knife wound had faded from an ugly blood red to barely noticeable pink. It wasn't long, however, before the reality and the physical stresses of their ordeals of literally coming back from the dead hit both of them full force. They'd barely managed to towel off and snuggle up in bed before they both fell into a deep, exhausted sleep, albeit quite contentedly.

It had been overambitious for them to think of getting any more amorous. Rationally, they both belonged in the hospital, but then again, no hospital would let them share a room, let alone a bed, and the intimate physical contact was doing more than any medication could. The skies had stayed clear since last night's rain, and the sunlight bathed the suite through the thin inner curtains. As exhausted as they were, they each awoke occasionally, needing to reassure themselves that the other was really there, that the whole thing hadn't been a dream, and if they both happened to be awake at the same time, to give each other a tender kiss, a gentle caress, and a murmured "I love you."

Now evening was approaching, and as Wesley entered the basement storage room and knelt down at one of a number of large cardboard boxes, he remembered the pain of the last time he was there, the pain of packing and putting her things away. He'd had to do it, he'd told himself, so he could let go and move on. He'd made plenty of excuses to himself as to why he didn't actually get rid of her things: that someday Roger and Trish Burkle would learn the truth about their daughter and would want her things, or Illyria would sooner or later perish-- he himself had tried to destroy her more than once-- and he could then give Fred's body a proper burial and would then need one of her dresses to bury her in. But he had never dared let himself imagine the reason that actually did bring him back to that room: Fred had been alive all along and had now asked him to pick out a dress, shoes and underthings because she had absolutely nothing to wear and was upstairs, lying nude in a bed he had just left.

When he opened the box, Wesley rested his face on the stack of her clothes inside it, and let himself weep quiet tears of joy. It was a joy beyond words, a feeling beyond joy. On so many different levels, his life had been given back to him. The one thing that finally got him moving again was his reminder to himself that she was waiting for him upstairs.

He'd found a shopping bag among her things to carry the items he picked out. When he returned to the upstairs hallway, he found a large giftwrapped box in front of the door. Picking it up, he read the card:

"Dear Wesley: Wear these in good health! In other words, please try not to get blood on them! Love, Dawn", followed by a smiley face. He laughed.

When he reentered the suite, Fred was still in bed, sitting up between the sheets and was on the phone.

"I'm a survivor, Momma!" Her voice was tearful. "You know what my life is, and after what I've been through, I can survive anything..."

Wesley placed the shopping bag and Dawn's present on the bed and sat with her, kissing her.

"Wesley just walked in... I promise I'll call you every day from now on," Fred continued. "And now that Wolfram and Hart are out of business, I'm sure I have some free time and can come home real soon to see you... Real soon. I promise... I love you, too, Momma. I love you, Daddy. I'll talk to you again tomorrow."

She hung up and smiled at him. "Momma and Daddy send their love."

"Did you tell them about Illyria?"

"I just told them I wasn't really myself the last time they saw me," she smiled. "They can read between the lines."

"But you will tell them eventually, right?"

"That's something you just don't do over the phone. But I will eventually actually introduce Illyria to them. We're a part of each other now."

"That's much better than me telling them you're dead and your body's been possessed."

"Amen to that!" she laughed. "You heard what I said about my coming home real soon to see them. You coming?"

"Fred Burkle, if I have any choice in the matter, I'm never letting you out of my sight for the rest of my life!"

She kissed him and rested her head on his shoulder. "Me too, Wesley." After a moment's thought, she looked at him. "You gonna call your folks?"

"It's almost Three A.M. in England," he replied, then turned to face her and took her hands in his. "And before I do call them, there's one very important question I have to ask you first..."

The two of them were still unsteady on their feet as they came down the steps to the lobby holding hands. Dawn's package for Wesley had contained a full change of new clothing except for the jacket and shoes, with a turtleneck almost identical to the one he'd been stabbed in. Fred wore the pastel-yellow knee-length summer dress he'd brought up-- he'd told her he thought of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" when he'd selected it. They were met with a round of applause from the others as they reached the bottom step.

Although they still carried their weapons, the Slayer contingent had for the most part changed their attire; Andrew had actually brought and was wearing his tweed three-piece, forcing Wesley to bite his tongue about how long it had taken him to break out of the tweed habit himself. Dawn still had her leather jacket over a dark blue top, but had swapped the black jeans and boots for a floral print skirt and sandals, and Amanda and most of the Slayers had similarly changed from "fighty" to "festive" as well.

"Okay!" Lorne announced as he handed flyers to Dawn, Amanda and Andrew. "Address and directions to Casa Francisca. The reservation's under Angel Investigations. Hope you all like Mexican."

"Dawn," Angel said to her, "we have to make one stop along the way, visit a friend in the hospital before visiting hours are over, and we'd appreciate it if you came along. The others in the vans can go ahead, but do you mind following us?"

"Okay," Dawn nodded. "Oh, and I love Mexican, but is there anything special about this Casa Francisca?"

Wesley, Lorne and Angel all smiled affectionately at Fred before saying in unison: "All You Can Eat Tacos!"

Gunn was feeling no pain. The Demerol added to the IV solution dripping into his left arm made sure of that. Once he'd come out of general anesthesia and been moved from surgical recovery to a regular room, he'd drifted in and out of sleep all day long, with the TV on a news channel. The top story all day long was that the office of Senator Helen Brucker had announced that she had been hospitalized at an undisclosed location and was resigning her senate seat effective immediately and withdrawing her bid for reelection, due to health reasons not further disclosed. There was also some passing mention of the building of the Wolfram and Hart law offices being closed until further notice due to the discovery of structural damage, attributed to shoddy construction. There was no mention of any connection between that and the senator's illness and resignation. The fact that the surviving minions of her organization were covering up the senator's death, and that there was no citywide manhunt announced for the person who had thrown a battleaxe into her forehead, told him that he could relax, and that kept him more asleep than awake.

But he was more or less lucid, and he was pretty sure he wasn't dreaming when he heard a man's voice whisper "Gunn!" and felt a hand shake him on his right forearm.

"GAAH!" he screamed, flinching and stiffening, after his eyes followed the man's arm up and he saw it belonged to Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Wesley was immediately grateful that the other bed in the semi-private room was vacant.

"Relax, Gunn!" he smiled. "I'm not here to escort you to the arms of Baby Jesus. Or to any other afterlife dimension, for that matter."

"I'm not floating above my own body..." Gunn breathed heavily as he looked around. "There's no white light pulling me..." He patted Wesley's arm up to the shoulder and then went to his face.

"I'm not a vampire, zombie or ghost, either," Wesley assured him.

"We're both not dead?" Gunn caught his breath. "Sucka! Illyria told us you were dead!"

"I was, actually. But she and Fred were able to bring me back, with a lot of help from Buffy's sister Dawn..."

"Wait! She and Fred...?" Gunn looked at him hopefully. "That really was her in the alley? Fred's really back? If anyone oughta know, you would."

"It's her," Wesley lowered his head, "but I'm ashamed to say I didn't believe her. It took her singing for Lorne for me to believe her. I'm just grateful that she's forgiven me."

"Oh, thank God!" Gunn smiled, then began to weep.

"Anyway, Fred and Dawn are waiting in the Solarium along with Angel, Nina and Lorne. They have an 'Only two visitors per patient at a time' rule on this floor. At any rate, Andrew tells us that Dawn and Buffy still don't know anything about Spike showing up at Wolfram and Hart after they thought he burned up in the Sunnydale Hellmouth, and Angel wants to keep it that way. So we want to get the story straight with you before they come in."

"Wait a second! Not that I wouldn't welcome any visitors, but why would Buffy's sister even want to see me? I've never met either her or Buffy!"

"Trust us, Gunn," Wesley smiled. "You're going to be glad to see her. Anyway, they still don't know about Spike, so as far as they're concerned, right after the fight, you managed to make it out of the alley to the street, where you flagged down a passing police car, and they called an ambulance for you. All right?"

"Okay. I made it to the street and the cops found me. Not that I'm not grateful to Spike for carrying my ass all the way over here."

"Let me go get them. I'll see you tomorrow, Gunn."

"Thanks, Wes. And welcome back from the Great Beyond!"


Wesley stepped out, and it only took a few seconds for Fred to enter, with Dawn a few steps behind her.

"Hi, Charles," she smiled, then leaned over and they kissed each other on the cheek.

"Welcome back, Fred," he smiled back and squeezed her hand, continuing to weep. "So it's really you!"

"It's really me!"

"So how're you feeling? You weren't in any better shape than I was the last time I saw you."

"I was a mess," Fred nodded. "I really didn't want to live. But when Dawn and the Slayers showed up... Oh, I'm sorry. Dawn Summers, this is Charles Gunn, an old, dear friend."

"Hi," Dawn smiled.

"I'm charmed," Gunn smiled back.

"Dawn's a--" Fred squinted at her. "What exactly are you? A Watcher or a Slayer or what?"

"I'm not even sure what to consider myself!" Dawn laughed. "Willow and Xander call me the Utility Player."

"Anyway," Fred continued, "Illyria could sense that there was a way we could bring Wesley back if we got back to his body in time."

"Ah, yes," Gunn nodded. "Illyria. How is old Blue Thunder?"

"Old Blue Thunder has graciously decided to demobilize herself until the next war, and is enjoying being a human being and sharing memories and sensations with yours truly. And once I realized I did have a reason to live and got used to having my own body back, I was okay. I'm still a little woozy, but I'm okay."

"And just how did you bring Wesley back from the Great Beyond?"

Fred looked over her shoulder and smiled. "Dawn?"

Dawn stepped forward to the bed.

"Now we're not going to see any big fireworks like with Wesley," Fred said. "We're not bringing Charles here back after being dead for over three hours. And his wound isn't nearly as bad as Wesley's."

"No demon hitchhikers either, right?" Dawn asked.

"Shouldn't be."

Gunn watched apprehensively as the two women held hands and them placed their free hands on top of his abdomen where they could see the bloody bandages through his gown. After a few seconds, green sparks appeared over the wound, and continued to dance there for several seconds after Fred and Dawn pulled back their hands.

"Whoa!" he stared as the sparks disappeared.

"You'll be good as new in a couple of hours," Fred smiled. "Good thing, too, since Wolfram and Hart's health insurance probably went belly up with the company. The doctors here will probably want you out of here in a couple of days regardless of how well you've healed."

"Fred," Dawn asked, "are you sure this only works on wounds inflicted by demons?"

"Unfortunately," Fred nodded. "I know what you're thinking. We could do a lot of good just hanging around any old ER, but it doesn't work that way." Then she added, "Dawn, could you please excuse us for a second?"

"Sure. I'll be right outside. Nice meeting you, Charles."

"Same here, Dawn."

Fred waited until Dawn was out in the hallway. "Charles," she smiled, "you're a dear friend, but I think we're both agreed that it was better off that we never went further than we did when we were dating."

"Yeah, Fred. No argument there."

"Wesley and I are right for each other. We belong together."

"Fred, not only do I know that, but I think I knew that before the two of you did!"

"Wesley and I belong to each other now. Losing each other and getting each other back made us realize that more than ever. I love Wesley with all my heart, body and soul."

"And I'm happy for both of you," Gunn nodded. "But like I just said, I think I knew that before you two did. So where are you going with this?"

"I just wanted you to know," she continued to smile, "having said all that, that I still think you're not unpleasant to my eyes!"

They both laughed as she kissed him on the eyebrow.

Angel and Lorne had arranged for a banquet room with a piano at Casa Francisca, so between Lorne's repertoire and several of the Slayers' efforts at karaoke, there was plenty of self-generated entertainment for the evening. As it turned out, a majority of the party and not just Fred took advantage of the All You Can Eat Taco special.

Dawn went to the powder room, and when she returned to the banquet room, Angel was waiting right inside the door, away from both the dining tables and the piano. "Dawnie," he smiled, "all day long, I haven't had a chance to talk to you alone."

"Yeah, I've been meaning to talk to you alone, too, Angel."

"How's Buffy?"

"She's fine," Dawn nodded. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. She asked me to give you a message." She paused and smiled. "If it didn't turn out that you were on the side of Wolfram and Hart, and we didn't end up having to kill you first!"

"Well," he laughed, "I can see where that might have been a possibility from your perspective."

"That's the reason she put me in charge of this mission instead of leading it herself."

Angel nodded to himself but said nothing; this was further evidence of his theory that they weren't really living in Rome, or anyplace outside of Southern California for that matter.

"She said to tell you," Dawn continued, "that she's still not done baking. She said you'd know what that meant."

"Yeah, I do, and that's pretty much the message I was expecting," Angel nodded. He looked over to the dining table where Nina was sitting with Fred and Wesley, laughing along with them at something. "Tell Buffy I've found myself a cookie that's done," he smiled.

He returned to the table and Nina, while Dawn kept standing by the wall. By the piano, Cyndi, Maureen and two other Slayers finished up their rendition of "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" and returned to their seats.

"Okay, Wes!" Lorne said loudly. "You're up!"

Wesley smiled back noncommittally.

"Wesley! Wesley!" the others began to chant.

"We gonna do this or what?" Lorne prodded. "Come on, Wes! How many times will you ever have an opportunity to sing this song under these circumstances? Hopefully never again after tonight!"

Fred smiled and gave Wesley a gentle shove, and he stepped up to the piano and took the microphone, sitting on the barstool there. He started singing as Lorne played.

Long, long time ago--

I can still remember how that music

Used to make me smile.

I knew if I had the chance

That I could make those people dance

And maybe they'd be happy for a while...

With Lorne singing backup, Wesley launched into the full rendition of the song, grinning at the irony each time he got to the chorus:

So bye-bye, Miss American Pie!

Drove my Chevy to the levee,

But the levee was dry.

Them good old boys

Were drinking whiskey and rye,

Singing "This'll be the day that I die...

This'll be the day that I die!"

There was laughter and applause the first time the younger members of the audience heard the unfamiliar last lines of the chorus, especially Dawn, who realized that he'd been stabbed by Vail sometime after midnight, so it was technically true. By the time he finished the sixth and last verse, almost everyone was singing along with the chorus.

Fred then got up and joined him by the piano, pulling up another barstool and sitting close to him as he held her hand.

"That last song was an Oldie," Wesley explained, "and this next one's an even older Oldie. It was already an Oldie when I was born. In fact, I believe it's almost as old as Rupert Giles!"

He paused and waited for the hoots and laughter to subside. "But Winifred and I searched our memories through all the songs we knew, and couldn't think of any other song that says it all quite like this one."

As Lorne started the accompaniment, Wesley and Fred leaned toward each other and let their foreheads touch as they sang.

Darling, you can count on me,

'Til the sun dries up the sea.

Until then I'll always be

Devoted to you.

I'll be yours through endless time.

I'll adore your charms sublime...

The old song, again unfamiliar to most present, left no dry eye in the room by the time they finished the last verse:

Through the years our love will grow.

Like a river it will flow.

It can't die because I'm so

Devoted to you.

As Wesley and Fred finished with a kiss, Lorne sniffled and said, "Wow! I need a break after that one!"

The couple got off the barstools and looked around the room until they found Dawn, still standing by herself and now wiping her eyes. They continued to hold hands as they approached her.

"Wow!" Dawn said. "I'm speechless!"

"Well, what we're about to tell you may leave you even more speechless, Dawnie," Wesley said.

"We owe you so much, Dawnie, but we have one more big favor to ask you," Fred added.

"Just name it!" Dawn grinned.

"Did you have any plans for next weekend?" Fred asked.

"Well, we weren't sure if we were still going to be holding back an apocalypse," Dawn furrowed her eyebrows, "but since you and your blue-haired alter-ego seem to have taken care of that..."

"Fred and Wesley want you to meet them in Vegas!" Buffy laughed. "Next weekend! To be their Maiden of Honor!"

"Yeah!" Dawn nodded, annoyed at her apparent disbelief.

"A woman you just met three days ago. And my former Watcher, who hadn't seen you since you were twelve. Are eloping and want you to be their Maiden of Honor!"

"Why is that so hard to believe?"

Buffy just looked at her and continued her skeptical smile.

"Oh, okay, it is!" Dawn sighed. "But now that I'm home, I can tell you the stuff I couldn't tell you over the phone. Fred-slash-Illyria didn't just..."

"Fred-slash-Illyria?" Buffy looked at her. "You've really been hanging around Andrew way too much."

"Hey, he and Amanda are becoming my Xander and Willow! Especially since Kit and Carlos's families were among the first of the Sunnydale Exodus and are now God knows where. Anyway, you're missing the point!"

"Just messing with your head," Buffy giggled, then reached over and stroked Dawn's hair. "Now that you're almost legal, I don't have to be the substitute Mom all the time. I can go back to being the nasty old big sister. By the way, you really should try monkey brai-- I mean marshmallows in your hot chocolate sometime!"

They laughed. "Anyway," Buffy continued, "you were about to tell me about Fred and what you couldn't say over the phone."

"Buffy, Fred didn't just pull Wesley back from the dead all by herself. She needed my Key energy to bring his soul across dimensions from the afterlife."

"So you were, like, her battery pack."

"Something like that."

"One Hundred and One Uses for an Interdimensional Key!" Buffy giggled again, but beamed proudly while doing so.

"We're only up to three, by my count," Dawn reminded her, "and since Number One involves ending the universe, we shouldn't even count that. But Buffy, being a part of it, bringing Wesley back... It was so awesome and humbling."

"I kinda figured it was something like that. So Wes owes you his life."

Dawn blushed a little, still not used to the hero role. "Well, yeah, I guess so."

"Is he all right?" Buffy asked a little uncomfortably. "You know, emotionally... He's not messed up like..."

"Not messed up like you were, you mean." Dawn finished the sentence for her and she nodded back wordlessly. "No. He's fine. Ecstatic even. Maybe partly because he wasn't dead long enough to settle into Heaven like you did. But definitely because not only did he come back from the dead, but his Fred was waiting for him when he did."

"Aww, that's sweet!" Buffy smiled. "I get the Maiden of Honor part, then. But when it comes to run-off-to-Las Vegas-and-elope-in-one-week types, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce is not exactly the first person who comes to mind. Neither is Fred, even though I've only talked to her on the phone, never met her face-to-face."

"Coming back from the dead changes you. Buffy, you of all people should know that."

"I know! But you just said he wasn't messed up emotionally!"

"Well, it wasn't so much coming back from the dead themselves, but watching each other die, and then getting each other back. They told me it made them realize that life's too precious, too short and too unpredictable."

"Yeah," Buffy nodded and smiled.

"So I can go to Vegas?"

"Of course you can, Dawnie! You'll be eighteen in a few more months. Pretty soon, you won't have to ask me."

"You coming with? You're invited, but if you're uncomfortable with seeing Angel there, I can just go with Andrew and Amanda. Remember, he had a pretty big part in this, too."

"I'll think about it," Buffy nodded tentatively. After a second, she added, "So tell me about Angel's new cookie."

"Nina? Blonde, pretty, petite, seemingly very vulnerable on the outside. But incredibly strong, physically and spiritually, under the surface. Kinda reminds me of you..."

Buffy nodded pensively, not sure whether to be jealous or flattered.

"... if your powers only came out during the full moon."

Buffy let out a short laugh. "Werewolf, huh?"

"Werewolf," Dawn nodded.

Buffy was quietly contemplating this when there was a light rapping at the partially open door and they saw Giles and Willow standing there. Both of them were holding hard copies of Dawn's field report. "Come on in!" Dawn said.

"Excuse me, Dawn," Giles said. "Just wanted to compliment you on your field report. This is exactly why I wanted to designate you as a Watcher in the first place. This is the first time in the history of the Watchers' Diaries that a Slayer ever wrote her own firsthand Watcher's Diary entry." He grinned. "I'm willing to forget any previous misgivings I've had that it was written on a Macintosh and printed on an HP Deskjet, instead of handwritten in a leatherbound volume. Your diary writings when you were younger have served you well."

"Yes," Willow smiled. "The Dawnmeister Chronicles did not die in vain. Plus, your grandpa's still reading his copy downstairs, but he says you're a chip off the old block!"

"It wasn't much of a report," Dawn said modestly. "The fighting was over by the time we got there. The only demon we killed was the one that was already dead and got reanimated when we resurrected Wes."

"You see, it's not just about slaying demons and vampires, Dawn," Giles said. "Its an accumulation of knowledge and intelligence, and lessons learned, that can be called forth for future use."

"So, Dawnie," Willow asked, "Fred's really all right?"

"Well, keep in mind that I never met her before this trip, so I have no solid frame of reference as to what she was like before. But Lorne seems to be the final say, and she sang and everything, and he's certain her soul's really back."

"Thank Goddess!" Willow sighed.

"Willow, I know it was rough for you," Giles said. "I know she's your friend. But we really couldn't risk Wolfram and Hart getting hold of you and tapping your powers for their use."

"I know," Willow nodded. "You have to make the tough decisions for the greater good." There was still a trace of bitter sarcasm in her voice.

"Your going there when Angel first called wouldn't have made any difference anyway," Dawn said consolingly. "He and Wes wanted you to try to re-ensoul her, and she said her soul never left her body in the first place."

"And if we'd somehow interfered," Giles said, "we might have prevented Illyria from taking corporeal form, and she wouldn't have been able to stop the apocalypse and drive the Wolf, Ram and Hart into remission. It all worked out for the best."

Dawn was more than willing to help alleviate whatever anguish and guilt Willow was feeling, but there was a smugness in Giles' tone that she wasn't going to let slide. "We can't just chalk it up to 'We're the good guys, and God or the Powers That Be are on our side!' Fred's got an incredibly strong soul. She won out over Illyria, and over the Wolf, Ram and Hart. Fred used Illyria to save the world."

Buffy looked over at Willow and smiled. "I guess this is another case where the human soul and pure love can win out over evil and darkness. Like you and Xander on Kingman's Bluff."

"Yeah," Willow smiled back, a little pained at the memory.

"And we were lucky we didn't get there any later than we did," Dawn added, "otherwise, Wes was a goner. Actually, he was, but I mean permanently."

"Damned lucky," Willow nodded.

"Well," Giles said, a little defensively now, "as the Bard said, all's well that ends well."

"Actually, Giles," Dawn looked at him, "I was thinking more in terms of how close we came to a different kind of Shakespearean ending. Like Romeo and Juliet's big tragic dirt nap!"

"Oh, what do you want me to say?" Giles sighed. "That I was wrong not to try to help? That Winifred overcame torture and halted an apocalypse, and she and Wesley escaped a tremendous tragedy, in spite of my decisions? That I should be on my knees thanking God that things didn't get any worse because of me?"

"Yes!" the three girls chorused.

"Oh, very well, then. I was wrong! In retrospect with twenty-twenty hindsight, I was wrong. All right?"

"We love you, Giles," Buffy smiled. "It's just that now that you're head of the Council, we just want you to be careful and keep from getting all pompous like Quentin Travers. We don't want to end up hating you like we hated him."

"Thank you," he said dryly, but after some thought, his expression softened. Lessons learned, he reminded himself.

TO BE CONTINUED in the final book (Old Scores to Settle) of the series The Family That Slays Together, which I probably won't post until the other books in the series prior to this have been completed and posted. In the meantime, if you haven't already done so, you are again cordially invited read what I've already posted of this storyline in Blood of the Night Stalker and The Family That Slays Together Book 1: Home Base.


FEEDBACK/REVIEWS ARE INVITED! Please keep 'em coming! Thanks to those who have reviewed! ;-)

Author's Notes:

A reminder that this book is temporarily posted in the Angel fanfic section, and will eventually be deleted and reposted in the BtVS fanfic section.

My use of Don McLean's American Pie as Wesley's song of celebration is a combination of the use of irony in the lyrics, a nostalgic reference to my old days in the Air Force where it was the unofficial squadron song of a squadron I was in, and a backhanded reference to Alexis Denisof's real-life wife (and the Buffyverse's favorite Wiccan) and the series of works for which she is next-best remembered after BtVS!

To Nala 147 and Angus: Both Amy Acker and Joss Whedon have indicated in interviews that had Angel gone on to Season 6, Fred would have slowly reemerged to the point that she and Illyria would have developed into a Clark Kent-Superman type of relationship. Presumably Wesley wouldn't have been killed off and would have suffered through the angst of this development which, also presumably, would have been dragged out for the entire season. I just tried to remain faithful to that premise, but compressed it all into one night for the needs of this storyline; I also happen to be a psychologist by profession, and in my opinion, Fred's reemergence and merger with Illyria would have to have been pretty much instantaneous once the barrier had been breached, as I depicted in the last paragraph of Chapter 1.

To asdeed: Thanks for the compliments! If you're a fan of both Buffy and the original Kolchak, I guarantee it'll be worth it!